Front Panels

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Lenp
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Front Panels

Post by Lenp » Tue Apr 01, 2008 8:13 am

There has been much discussion in the past on the tech side of this business, including components, boards, technology and theory.

Many excellent, and smart, circuit designs and boards are made, I am sure by some members of this board, in one and two quantities. Unfortunately they just get stuffed in a 'Bud' box with stick on labels. Since the outside appearance will be seen and appreciated, by more people than the ingenious circuitry inside, this does not do the project justice.

So, how about sharing some ideas and comments about panel fabrication and labeling options so we can clean up our act? Let's limit it to techniques that can be reproduced without special equipment or technology.

I'll kick it off...
Years ago I started (dating myself again) with 'decals', and the dreaded transfer letter sets. Today we have CAD software, color printers and media that was unheard of years ago.

I often use CAD software for the panel design using colors and graphics. Be sure to use accurate centering points for all holes and cutouts. Print to card stock, then hot laminate using one sided adhesive pouches (often called sign pouches) for the finished front panel. They are tough and water proof.

Be sure to print out a copy on plain paper, attach it to the project panel to use as a drilling template. I use a water base adhesive, like Elmer's or tightly tape it with clear tape. After the holes are center punched and drilled align and stick the panel graphics in place. I use a light box to help locate the hole centers. Carefully cut out the holes in the laminated sheet; A pointed scalpel or Exacto works well. Mount the parts through the panel and laminated graphics and everything lines up, even dial scales and switch markings. If your printer will print a solid black background, do a panel with white lettering on black, reminiscent of the bakalite engraved panels of yesteryear. Spray clear lacquer, not acrylic on the sheet before laminating and it will darken the black background. Using this method, one or a hundred, all look the same.

There are decal sheets that you print with a laser printer. Cut out, soak and stick. Chemicals are also available that make the clear boundary of the decal disappear.

Now it's your turn.

Len

Engineer1138
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Post by Engineer1138 » Tue Apr 01, 2008 8:59 am

Excellent topic!

I often do projects that have to be in metal/plastic enclosures and I have a small machine shop. My little benchtop milling machine is indispensible for making slots & rectangular cutouts. Using a hand-operated nibbler works well for thinner stock also. One source of inexpensive tools is Wholesale Tool at www.wttool.com

I have silkscreened panels in the past, but while it gives nice results, it's very labor intensive.

Avery makes printable plastic sheets in white, colored or textured clear stock that can be glued to a panel. It's available online or at office supply stores. One idea I have had, but not tried yet is using toner transfer sheets to make nice lettering on aluminum and then giving the Al a ferric chloride dip to etch the background to make the letters stand out.

I just started a project to build a coil winding machine (again!) and I'm going to be addressing this very topic of control panel design after I get the mechanicals running. I'm thinking of starting a blog about this project in the hope that public exposure forces me to get off my butt and finish it this time :-)

Bigglez
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Re: Front Panels

Post by Bigglez » Tue Apr 01, 2008 9:14 am

Greetings Len,
Lenp wrote: Unfortunately they just get stuffed in a 'Bud' box with stick on labels
....
So, how about sharing some ideas and comments about panel fabrication and labeling options so we can clean up our act?
.....
Let's limit it to techniques that can be reproduced without special equipment or technology.
.....
Now it's your turn.
Recently I've turned to my PC and CAD programs that are
emailed to a CNC shop. This is the minimum equipment or
supplies that anyone would need. "Hobby Outsourcing"!

The resulting metal panels feature high accuracy, tough
anodized finish, and paint filled engraved text and logos.

Image
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Comments Welcome!

muntron
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Re: Front Panels

Post by muntron » Tue Apr 01, 2008 10:36 am

Bigglez wrote:Recently I've turned to my PC and CAD programs that are
emailed to a CNC shop. This is the minimum equipment or
supplies that anyone would need. "Hobby Outsourcing"!

The resulting metal panels feature high accuracy, tough
anodized finish, and paint filled engraved text and logos.

Comments Welcome!
Very nice, but you left out the one piece of information critical to many hobbyists, the cost. Unfortunately, for me, this out trumps many other considerations.

Bigglez
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Re: Front Panels

Post by Bigglez » Tue Apr 01, 2008 11:08 am

Greetings (No First Name Supplied),
muntron wrote: Very nice, but you left out the one piece of information critical to many hobbyists, the cost.
I didn't leave it out, here you go: All of the panels
that I posted are around $30.00 each. (Standard
turn around time of 5 days, more for expedites).

The CAD program to do this a free download here.
Inside the program is an on-line pricing and order tool.

Perhaps the other posters will provide pricing (or
labour time) for their methods?

Comments Welcome!

muntron
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Re: Front Panels

Post by muntron » Tue Apr 01, 2008 12:49 pm

Bigglez wrote:I didn't leave it out, here you go: All of the panels
that I posted are around $30.00 each. (Standard
turn around time of 5 days, more for expedites)
....
Perhaps the other posters will provide pricing (or
labour time) for their methods?

Comments Welcome!
Thanks, and yes, it would be nice if others could include cost information.

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philba
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Post by philba » Tue Apr 01, 2008 2:42 pm

Big, I have to say I really admire your attention to project detail. It's great stuff.

At $30, that seems pretty reasonable. I have several projects that I may use the service for.

Robert Reed
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Post by Robert Reed » Tue Apr 01, 2008 5:58 pm

Hello Len
I agree that a 'pile of wires breadboard' jammed in a plastic BudBox is a pile of junk. I think any project worth doing is worth doing right. The method I have done for several years uses Front Panel Designers free CAD program. They advertise in N&V and the program can be downloaded from their website. The learning cuve is fairly easy and very accurate results can be obtained. The only draw back is they have a limited choice of background colors available. I usually choose natural aluminum for that. But all the printing, layout points, Etc. are all there. Can print the blank panel only with holes and layout dimensions for machining and the with one keystroke add all the lettering for final printing. The method that has worked best for me is to print out on flat or satin photo paper. Make a couple of alignment marks on the back side of the photo to line up with the machined front panel. Spray the panel with 3M adhesive spray. Let set for a few minutes and then drop into place on the photo paper using previous alignment marks. press down firmly on entire surface and let set over night. Next day, clean out control holes as you have been doing and give it a heavy coat (on a level surface) of Krylon gloss spray. Again let it sit fofor 24 hours and then install on your project. I have had no yellowing appear after several years and it seems to hold up quite well under normal use. Heres a couple of pictures of some past prototypes that I just happened to have stored on my computer desk top and you can view the power supply on the front cover of N&V of March, 2007. Also - on occasion I will order finished panels from Front Panels. Beautiful work, but can get quite pricey. Tht decsion to buy all comes down to the importance of the project.
Image

Image

Image

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Bob Scott
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Post by Bob Scott » Wed Apr 02, 2008 3:25 am

A few years ago I converted a 4 channel Airtronics model aircraft radio control transmitter to 6 channels. It was easy. The 4 channel and 6 channel models both used the same PCB. I just filled the PCB with the missing op-amps and discrete parts and bought some miniature toggle switches. The case was pre-molded for the switches. I just had to drill out the blank aluminum panels and add labels.

I used the DOS Paint program from Zsoft to make labels and printed them in mirror image onto clear overhead projector film. Being mirror image, the image toner would be underneath the film when applied so that it was impossible to wear off. One of the 2 position switches was labelled "Tactical Nulear Weapons". Position 1 was "Arm". Position 2 was just a tiny drawing of a mushroom cloud. I wish I could show pictures but I gave my brother the RC equipment and the file is on a long gone 5 1/4 inch floppy.

I used epoxy glue to paste the film onto a roll of aluminum HVAC tape from the hardware store. It was not hard to burnish out any air bubbles because I was careful to burnish just using my fingertips while applying. The remaining epoxy sandwich was so thin the glue was invisible. The surface finish was original matte of the film so with this method you don't get that inconsistent varnish look that you would with other methods like Letraset, and the background is polished aluminum.

I then cut out and applied the labels to the blank panels, then installed the switches. The graphics covered the entire panels so they didn't look like stuck on labels.

If I'm in a hurry or labelling a prototype for work, I just use a Brother label machine. I have always disliked the look of Dymo on electronics. Letraset was impossible to use. By the time I bought a sheet of Letraset from the aging stock at the local electronics wholesaler it was to old to work with.

I thinking that if I ever make a piece of equipment with a viewing window (like Peter's Nixie clocks), I'll go hunting for a nice shape in a vacuum formed blister pack. Just discard the product and used the package for a viewing window.

Wow, Nixie tubes went obsolete 30 years ago. I thought they were unobtrainable these days. Peter?

Bigglez
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Post by Bigglez » Wed Apr 02, 2008 6:53 pm

Greetings Bob,
Bob Scott wrote:Wow, Nixie tubes went obsolete 30 years ago. I thought they were unobtrainable these days. Peter?
Yes, the Nixie tube lifespan ran from the early 1950s to about
1970 when other numerical indicator came into play. At about
$20 each in 1960s money they seldom were used for hobbies.
Many different numerical or alphanumerical indicator types
date to the 1960s, but LEDs really sent them to the museum
in the 1970s.

Fortunately the use of Nixies in military equipment, even if
only as spare parts stock, keep many NOS nixies in the
warehouse where they sold for quite high prices, some in the
$50 to $100 range (your tax dollars at work). Once the
equipment was replaced, the spares became unwanted and
were unloaded as scrap.

Meanwhile the USSR continued to push the glass tube technology
and produced production Nixies well into the late 1980s.
Early Russian Nixies were of poor quality (although the
lumpy glass gives them a personality), but the last
devices to be made were surprisingly attractive.

In the late 1990s eBay came along and suddenly Nixies
were traded and priced upwards again. Domestic pulls
were reaching ten dollars each, and usually were in single
or low volume lots. Hobby clocks took a bit of effort to
populate. Many of the NOS and pulls were non-functional
from storage (but could be coaxed to work again).

This caught on with Russians, who had access to USSR
military stocks and desire for foreign currency.

Many thousands of USSR Nixies have come into the
west for hobbies. Initially these tubes were sold for
under a dollar, but market demand has pushed the
larger tubes much higher. Some USSR Nixies are
less appealing due to their font and use of the '2'
cathode upsidedown for the '5' position.

Last month a group of hobbyists on a Yahoo Group
made a bulk purchase from a USA tube broker for
a little over one thousand USA made Nixies (to
be split amongst the group).

The six digit clock I designed and built last year
uses the rare Minitron filament low voltage seven
segment displays. These are a variation on the
Numitron filament low voltage tubes made by RCA
(and IEE/Apollo), which some of you may have seen
in Tokhiem gas pumps during the 1970s (and BART
train stations in the San Francisco Bay Area).

Probably more than you every wanted to know,
but thanks for asking!

Comments Welcome!

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CeaSaR
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Post by CeaSaR » Thu Apr 03, 2008 8:09 pm

Bob Scott wrote:
I used the DOS Paint program from Zsoft...
I remember using PBrush (from Zsoft) on the old 486 DOS machine at
work. Boy, was that a long time ago!

My projects were done with decals (remember soaking them in water...)
or hand lettered with some sort of permanent ink. Since they were for
my own personal use, it didn't matter much to me.

CeaSaR
Hey, what do I know?

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Bob Scott
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Post by Bob Scott » Thu Apr 03, 2008 11:11 pm

CeaSaR wrote:Bob Scott wrote:
I used the DOS Paint program from Zsoft...
I remember using PBrush (from Zsoft) on the old 486 DOS machine at
work. Boy, was that a long time ago!
You had a 486?

We used an 8MHz XT Turbo with dual floppies, a whopping 640K RAM, a math coprocessor and an amber monitor. :razz:

Bob

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CeaSaR
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Post by CeaSaR » Fri Apr 04, 2008 3:26 am

Ok, so I wasn't working yet when the big deal with the company was buying
the Wang computer or either of the HP computers that look like giant calculators
and used tapes (in blocks of 50 data points). The Wang is long gone, but
one of the HP's is still around.

My first Computer was an IBM - don't know the speed - with dual floppies
a monstrous 20 mb hdd and lovely green screen. No graphics there, just
text. That one left the home 1 or 2 years ago. My 386 SX40 still runs DOS
and Win3.1, but sees extremely rare use. Then a long run with a 98SE
machine and now all XP.

At work, however, I am on my 10th year with the old Compaq running
Win98SE. We have 2 of these donkeys, but they still run the CAD that we
use. I will use that during whatever spare time I may have to make
whatever faceplates/labels I will need.

CeaSaR
Hey, what do I know?

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jollyrgr
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Post by jollyrgr » Fri Apr 04, 2008 8:01 am

This is a jog to the memory but there was this process I used a long time ago but not recently. I would draw my panels in MS Paint or similar. I would then REVERSE (mirror) the image and print it on overhead transparency. Now when looking through the "back" side of the transparency you would see the image the "Right" way. I'd then place the transparency on the box as the outer layer of the face. It is not a real solid method but looked nice. Since the toner was on the back side of the sheet it did not rub off.

I didn't glue my transpencies to the faceplate and let the nuts for the control knobs hold it flat or used tape.

Here is an example of someone doing something similar:
http://www.qrp4u.de/docs/en/front_design/index.htm

I wanted to try doing color panels with iron ons and ink jets. Has anyone tried that?
No trees were harmed in the creation of this message. But billions of electrons, photons, and electromagnetic waves were terribly inconvenienced!

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Post by k7elp60 » Fri Apr 04, 2008 6:16 pm

Ihave been using transparency film. Reversing the image printing with my epson R200 printer then glueing the transparency to the panel with 3M spray adhesive. Here is a picture of a 12/24 volt power supply.

Image

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